Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Steve Novick wants you to get hooked

(This is part one of my interview with US Senate candidate Steve Novick. Novick recently announced himself a candidate against Gordon Smith.)

I agreed to meet Steve Novick for this interview at a downtown Portland establishment of his choice. I made this decision consciously because I wanted to meet up with him in a place where he felt at ease. After having met him, I'm not sure there is a place where Novick isn't zen with himself. Maybe that comes with spending your entire life with an obvious physical disablity in which people might stare or even ask questions. Or maybe that just comes with having lots of really smart and interesting people think that you're smart and interesting. Or maybe both.

Either way, Steve was a few minutes late so I had the opportunity to watch him walk into the room. He surveyed the room allowing his eyes to flicker over the crowded space (probably trying to figure out which person is me--this was our first meeting). He finally spotted me and started to walk my way, but not before being stopped by a group of folks seated at a nearby table. Steve stopped and proceeded to chat with this apparently well-heeled group, telling a story that I couldn't entirely hear but which greatly amused these obvious admirers.

We then greeted and met one another--deciding together that his establishment of choice was much too crowded and loud. So off we trudged down the sidewalk to find an eatery/bar that was quieter.

We landed about a block away--ordered a few libations and began our talk. The first thing that struck me about Steve once we sat down is how little I noticed his physical disabilities. Yes he's short in stature (4'9", apparently) and has a hook where his left hand would generally be--but once we got to talking those things completely left my consciousness.

In fact the only reason it ever entered my mind at all after we initially met was because Steve brought it up to cite one of the URLs for his campaign website: votehook.com.

This is a guy who has a serious command of political and governmental information--stored smartly in easily accessed portions of his cranium--readily available at his fingertips. His eyes are twinkly and appear bemused at my clumsy attempts to soak in what he's saying--watching me furiously take notes on his effortless command of minutiae-laced factoids.

The next most obvious Novick trait is a very vocal respect and affection for the late Senator Paul Wellstone. Novick cites him a lot in our conversation. From Wellstone's first campaign to his ability to create coalitions, Steve Novick articulates a desire to be like Paul.

The first thing Novick will need to do is raise money. Novick noted that like Wellstone, he's going to have to work hard and be creative. "Compared to Wellstone I know more people. I know more groups that can raise money. And I don't mind asking for money."

Novick is indeed well connected in Oregon political circles. Novick was an advisor to the failed campaign of Tom Bruggere against Smith in 1995. Steve has worked for Pyramid Communications as a policy analyst on tax and budget issues. Novick was once an environnmental lawyer for the Justice Department after having graduated the youngest in his class from Harvard Law. More on Novick's background here. (Hint: its impressive)

Novick says he expects nothing from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in DC. He's spoken with them, but knows that he'll have to prove himself viable before they take notice. "After the first reporting period once I demonstrate I can raise money, more will come in." Novick says he must raise "a lot" more than Wellstone had to raise when he got started ($69k+ is what Wellstone raised--Novick quotes it to me off the top of his head).

Another thing Novick says he has going for him is the fact that credible politicos in Oregon believe he's a credible candidate. He cites the "WMD" of Oregon political strategists: Grove, Weiner and Liz Kaufman, all top flight progressive political strategists. In addition, Novick says that the print media in Oregon know him--he's dealt with them a lot and based on his record of beating the crap out of Bill Sizemore in 2000 and helping to beat the crap out of Don McIntire and Howard Rich in 2006--the media knows he's a force.

Steve's answers to my queries about his fundraising prowess come in quickly clipped phrases that run down a series of numbers and statistics and ideas faster than I can possibly write them down. He's a vessel of factoids that become an overwhelmingly wonky information dump--and even in my best shorthand while buzzed on a triple espresso could never be entirely taken in.

The first real issues part of our discussion ventured toward the Iraq situation. "Its appalling that we went in. Its more appalling that we had no clue what to do when we got there", Novick said. "Congress failed. They failed to ask questions about WMD and the Administration had no idea what to do. Congress didn't force the Administration to be specific."

So what to do now? Novick says there are no good options, but it would be a good start to implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Specifically, Novick says that we need to engage Syria, Iran and Saudia Arabia to help broker peace in Iraq, although we may be to the point that the civil war can't be stopped. "If engagement by those countries takes place, we can stay and help as long as our presence is helpful." Novick also said that the US should have no permanent bases in Iraq--its a recruitment tool for Al Qaida. "Then..", Novick says, "We should get out. The fact that we helped create the problem doesn't mean we can solve it."

(Look for part 2 of this interview in the next day or two--Carla)